Monty Python and the Wisdom of Crowds
I have never been a huge fan of Monty Python but I have grudgingly come to admire the timeless genius of silly sketches conceived nearly 50 years ago that still skewer modern culture as freshly as if they were written yesterday. Or perhaps that says more about modern culture…still subject to the wisdom of crowds after all these millennia.
Either way, look at this week’s ongoing “impeachment investigation” and tell that Monty Python and the Holy Grail didn’t capture its essence in this scene titled, appropriately enough, “Burn the Witch!” No further explanation seems necessary.
VILLAGER #1: We have found a witch, might we burn her?
CROWD: Burn her! Burn!
BEDEVERE: How do you know she is a witch?
VILLAGER #2: She looks like one.
BEDEVERE: Bring her forward.
WITCH: I’m not a witch. I’m not a witch.
BEDEVERE: But you are dressed as one.
WITCH: They dressed me up like this.
CROWD: No, we didn’t — no.
WITCH: And this isn’t my nose, it’s a false one.
VILLAGER #1: Well, we did do the nose.
BEDEVERE: The nose?
VILLAGER #1: And the hat — but she is a witch!
CROWD: Burn her! Witch! Witch! Burn her!
BEDEVERE: Did you dress her up like this?
CROWD: No! (no no… no) Yes. (yes yeah) a bit (a bit bit a bit)
VILLAGER #1: But she has got a wart!
BEDEVERE: What makes you think she is a witch?
VILLAGER #3: Well, she turned me into a newt. (pause & look around)
BEDEVERE: A newt!?
VILLAGER #3: Well, I got better.
VILLAGER #2: Burn her anyway!
(king walks in)
BEDEVERE: Quiet! quiet! Quiet! There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
CROWD: Are there? What are they?
VILLAGER #2: Do they hurt?
[Pay close attention: here comes the logic…]
BEDEVERE: Tell me, what do you do with witches?
VILLAGER #2: Burn!
CROWD: Burn ‘em!. Burn them up!
BEDEVERE: And what do you burn apart from witches?
VILLAGER #1: More witches! (V2 nudge V1)
VILLAGER #2: Wood!
BEDEVERE: So, why do witches burn?
VILLAGER #3: B–… ’cause they’re made of wood?
CROWD: Oh yeah, yeah.
BEDEVERE: So, how do we tell whether she is made of wood?
VILLAGER #1: Build a bridge out of her.
BEDEVERE: Ahh, but can you not also make bridges out of stone?
VILLAGER #2: Oh, yeah.
BEDEVERE: Does wood sink in water?
VILLAGER #1: No, no.
VILLAGER #2: It floats! It floats!
VILLAGER #1: Throw her into the bog!
CROWD: The bog!
BEDEVERE: What also floats in water?
VILLAGER #1: Bread!
VILLAGER #2: Apples!
VILLAGER #3: Very small rocks!
VILLAGER #1: Cider!
VILLAGER #2: Grape gravy!
VILLAGER #1: Cherries!
VILLAGER #2: Mud!
VILLAGER #3: Churches — churches!
VILLAGER #2: Lead — lead!
KING: A duck.
[all look and stare at king]
BEDEVERE: Exactly! So, logically…
VILLAGER #1: If… she… weighs the same as a duck.. she’s made of wood.
BEDEVERE: And therefore?
[pause & think]
VILLAGER #1: A witch!
CROWD: A witch! A witch! A witch!
BEDEVERE: We shall use my largest scales!
[yelling] [push her into scale]
BEDEVERE: Right, remove the stops!
[whop] [creak] wait while scales remains still
CROWD: A witch! A witch!
WITCH: It’s a fair cop.
CROWD: Burn her! Burn her!
BEDEVERE: Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?
KING: I am Arthur…
BEDEVERE: My liege!
So, what have we learned? When your facts are wrong, or ignored for the purpose of your argument, you are free to commit all the very best logic fallacies in the world.
Which of course will lead you to a false conclusion, but then, isn’t that the point? We’ve always known it’s been nothing more than a witch hunt from the start.
If you wish to watch the original version, it’s here:
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